'The Dining Room' uses nonwhites to reinforce a notion of social change


The plays of A.R. Gurney are sometimes dismissed with the comment "Who cares about affluent white heterosexuals from the Northeast?" Caring for Gurney folk is not made easier by the playwright's mildly satirical way of specializing in emotional midgets. His characters tend to be shallow and narrow.

The Repertory Actors Workshop production of Gurney's "The Dining Room" deals with the pallor problem by putting Asian Americans and blacks into the mix.

And director Kathy Hsieh tinkers with Gurney's tone. When "The Dining Room" was done at A Contemporary Theatre and at the Tacoma Actors Guild in the '80s, it was close to farce. The play can resemble an animated upper class "Blondie" cartoon.

But Hsieh goes for pathos. A potentially rediculous 1970s sexual dabbler comes accross as distraught and desperate. A potentially farcical son listening to his father's funeral plans becomes a study in mute distress.

And comedy is played in unexpected keys. A grumpy self-made patriarch eats from an array of Chinese porcelain. His grandson is incapable of handling chopsticks.

The notion of social change and economic change is reinforced as nonwhites move into traditionally Anglo-Saxon enclaves.

Gurney's collage of a dozen playlets provides multiple roles for Hsieh's generally capable cast: Gigi Jhong, Jim Abbott, Joseph Yang, Kimber Lee, T.J. Langley, Lisa May, Bradetta Vines, John Bianchi, Robin Dawn, Christine Sperry and Hing Lam.

Vines plays the woman who is encumbered by sexual freedom. T.J. Langley is the son who is overwhelmed by his father's funeral plans.

Lam and Yang are, respectively, the grumpy grandpa and his chopstick-impaired grandson.

February 26, 1994


The Dining Room. By A.R. Gurney. Repertory Actors Workshop production at the Theatre Off Jackson, 409 Seventh Ave. S. Through March 6. Tickets $4-$6; 364-3283.

© 1994 Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Reprinted with permission by ReAct.

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